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Vol. 75/No. 28      August 1, 2011

World War II: How gov’t
tried to suppress ‘Militant’
(Books of the Month, feature article)

Below is an excerpt from The Socialist Workers Party in World War II by James P. Cannon, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for July. Cannon describes the attacks by the Democratic Party administration of President Franklin Roosevelt on the Militant’s mailing rights.

The article appeared in the Nov. 28, 1942, issue of the paper. That month three consecutive issues dated November 7, 14, and 21 were “disposed of” by the U.S. Post Office—that is, destroyed. This action was taken by government authorities without any explanation or advance notification of the editor.

The Roosevelt administration claimed, among other charges, that articles in the paper defending Black rights were a “stimulation of race issues.” In March 1943 the postmaster general revoked the Militant’s second-class mailing rights. Despite continued government attempts to censor the paper, the Militant was sent out as third or fourth class, which was much slower and more expensive. The Militant won restoration of its mailing rights a year later after protests by leaders of Black rights groups, trade unions, and civil liberties organizations. Copyright © 1975 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

As reported last week, the issues of November 7 and November 14 were held up by the post office authorities. Since then the November 7 issue has been destroyed at the post office on orders from Washington, and the issue of November 21, which carried a report and protest against these arbitrary actions, has likewise been held up. We have learned from attorneys of the Post Office Department that The Militant has been subjected to these persecutions because of its editorial policies and criticisms of the administration… .

In a featured article in the New York Times, Sunday, September 21, 1941, Roosevelt’s Attorney General Biddle was quoted as saying: “Insofar as I can, by the use of the authority and influence of my office, I intend to see that civil liberties in this country are protected; that we do not again fall into the disgraceful hysteria of witch-hunts, strikebreakings, and minority persecutions which were such a dark chapter in our record of the last world war.”

We could quote similar declarations of intent from President Roosevelt and other high officials of his administration.

These declarations flagrantly contradict the policy of persecution initiated by Roosevelt’s administration against our movement. Despite their promises Roosevelt and his aides have set their feet upon the path of persecution blazed by the Wilson administration in the last war. President Roosevelt takes up where Wilson left off; Attorney General Biddle, with his raids and prosecutions, imitates Attorney General Palmer; Postmaster General Walker suppresses socialist and labor papers like his Democratic predecessor Burleson; OWI [Office of War Information] head Davis suppresses the news of our suppression like propaganda minister Creel during the last war. They “use the authority and influence” of their offices, not to protect civil liberties, but to abridge them. Persecutions speak louder than promises.

The administration claims that it is waging this war to defend democracy against the fascists and to preserve the four freedoms, among them the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But what are they actually doing? They attack free speech. They attack the free press. While dealing with quislings and fascists abroad, they strike at genuine antifascists at home… .

We are unremitting fighters in the interests of labor. We fight for the preservation of all democratic rights and civil liberties, against every form of inequality and injustice. As revolutionary socialists, we are principled opponents of the Roosevelt administration and criticize it from the standpoint of the socialist and labor movement.

These are our crimes in the eyes of the administration, and they add to their crimes in attacking us for them. The Roosevelt regime claims to oppose fascism but it collaborates, when expedient, with the fascists. It claims to be defending the four freedoms while trying to deny these freedoms to its political opponents. We Trotskyists, however, are defending democratic rights here at home against Roosevelt’s assault upon them. We are fighting for the freedom he hypocritically pretends to be safeguarding.

But we are not defending these rights for ourselves alone. We are fighting on behalf of the entire labor movement in the United States. We are only the first to be attacked. If the government can put through these initial moves without a wide protest, prosecution of others will surely follow.

If The Militant can be suppressed, any CIO or AFL paper can be likewise suppressed. If our party’s candidates are not given their electoral rights, other parties can be similarly disfranchised. If the leaders of Local 544-CIO can be convicted under the Smith “Gag” Act, this law will be used against other militant trade union leaders. If the FBI can succeed in their frame-ups against us, they will extend the frame-up system to others.

The persecution against the Trotskyist movement is simply the first step toward an all-out campaign against the militants in the trade unions and the civil liberties of all working-class critics of the administration. The workers have already been denied the right of collective bargaining and the right to strike. Are they now to be deprived (by the powers that be) of the elementary right to express their convictions, to criticize the acts of the government and the reactionary plots of the profiteers, to defend their interests even in words? Wages have been frozen. Are civil liberties also to be frozen? The cost of living is mounting daily. Is the wave of reaction to be permitted to rise along with it? …

These are the reasons why our fight should be supported by the whole labor movement and every sincere believer in democratic rights and civil liberties.
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